6 September 2022

Disallowance motion

I want to make very brief remarks this evening on the disallowance motion that’s been put before the Senate tonight by the Australian Greens, echoing the comments that we have heard not just from Senator Dean Smith and Senator Perin Davey but also from Senator Don Farrell.

The motion before us fails to deal with the substance of the policy area which we need to really deal with, which is animal welfare. The point that has been missed by some of the contributors to the debate tonight is that the animal welfare standards in this country are the strongest that we’ve ever seen. Yes, there have been Senate inquiries and other reports and reviews into animal welfare standards in this country and for good reason, too. We should be using world’s best practice, in my opinion, when we export live animals overseas, but we also should do it in a way that supports industry, supports the economy and supports jobs. Many regional jobs are really reliant on this industry. That’s not to say that the industry hasn’t got issues and has not had times when it needs support in dealing with how we best export, in this case, sheep. We’ve seen some very distressing footage aired through the media on how some animals have been treated—quite frankly, it’s shameful—by those operators who have done the wrong thing and brought great shame to an industry that many people, many workers, rely on for their livelihoods .

If the Senate were to pass this motion it would actually produce worse, not better, outcomes for animal welfare. Earlier this year, in the previous parliament, amendments to the northern summer prohibition rules were made in order to improve the management of heat stress for sheep exported in late May. We heard I think unfair comments earlier this evening, attacking the department, the officials who not only do a fantastic job upholding the rule of law but also have animal welfare close to them; it is central to their job, to make sure that when animals are exported it is done so with the highest standards. But it is also good to see that, at the state and federal level, governments have worked together to address the shonky operators that have given the industry a bad name. It is important that the changes to the northern summer prohibition rules were based not just on science but also on data—updated climatology data that indicated that changes were necessary to reduce the risk of heat stress.

The rules introduced a 10-day conditional prohibition on exports to some Persian Gulf destinations. The rules also imposed additional conditions during the designated period, designed to reduce the risk of heat stress. These include shorter fleece length, maximum sheep weight limits, minimum pen air turnover rates and increased pen space allowances. These actions all strengthen animal welfare based on science and data that we have available to us. That’s why I think many of us were surprised when this disallowance motion was brought before the Senate. I think that the Greens, in moving this disallowance motion, really fail to understand the real issue that they’re trying to deal with here. We do hear from time to time that they are somehow the champions of animals. As we heard in the contributions from this evening, in looking at animal welfare we need to look at not just one part of the disallowance but the whole disallowance.

What is being proposed by the Greens tonight would just hurt animal welfare standards in this country. It would reduce the standards and also impact the livelihoods of many around this country, particularly from the state of Western Australia, as outlined in the contributions that Senator Smith and others have made this evening. So, I was very surprised to find that we are dealing with this disallowance motion tonight. It is actually quite shocking that we have to deal with something that would override and fail to improve animal welfare standards in this country.

But let’s also not give this instrument the chop. Important rules and enforcement mechanisms are contained in this instrument. Presumably the Greens want us to think that if we were to scrap it then the welfare of sheep would just magically improve. But, in reality, this would force the regulator to find new—likely weaker—measures to protect animal welfare. Is this what we want—weaker measures to protect the animals we are trying to export? Well, I don’t think we should stand for it—a stunt that not only would waste this chamber’s time but, if it were to be successful, also would likely have a detrimental effect.

Are we surprised by the hypocrisy of some here in the Greens? Well, they’re trying to act high and mighty for their own political gain while they’re actually damaging the cause they claim to be supporting. And I haven’t even mentioned the economic pain that would be caused by trying to rip up the live sheep export trade overnight without any consultation. That is something this government has committed to do—to consult the industry, to consult the WA government. That’s what a party of government does. We sit down and we talk. We talk to the industry. We talk to those who are concerned about animal welfare standards. We talk to our friends over in Western Australia, the Western Australian government, about the impacts of phasing out this industry. But we are committed to supporting the regulators to protect animal welfare while we consult with the industry. We cannot just pull the rug out from under the industry. Like any change that responds to concerns from the community, this change has to be made in a way that is sensitive to the impact on individuals and communities that currently rely on the live export of sheep. Careful consultation and a considerate approach might not get as much traction on social media, but good government and sound decision-making is more important than likes and shares.